Men Standing Up: Dismantling Ethics’ Bad Rap


Paddy Murray takes a  look at why ethics can often be viewed negatively—even criticized outrightly—through three key factors. 

Ethics is a pretty dodgy subject for men in my experience. Thought it might be just an Australian thing till I read Gene Del Vecchio’s “Ethics Don’t Sell.”  I then realized that the word “ethics” was not a useful one for men in most countries.

Men know what being a good man is and means.

We use words like, guidelines, protocols, norms, how we do things here. There are heaps of good men out there and we need to learn to talk about it without the cringe factor.

The key to the cringe factor is to understand why ethics has such a bad rap. I see three major factors in that:

1. Religion

Religion has been preaching about the moral high ground and ethics for centuries, especially about sexuality a whole list of don’ts.

One of my memories is of an uptight-type priest in the pulpit telling a church full of boys the evils of putting your hands in your pockets—that is, don’t play with your dick. The modern reality of sexual abuse by priests around the western world and the church’s collusion in covering that up is now common knowledge. Hence religion has helped create a sense of hypocrisy around ethics and morality, devaluing the meaning of the words.

2. Business

Business uptake of ethics statements and policy statements around behavior has positive and negative effects. The negative side is that many men see and experience these as tokenistic.

Policies saying one thing but behavior in the business not being ethical. Sometimes bosses behave in an ethically questionable way, but pull the ethics policy out as a way diminishing individuals in a power game. Again, this experience can devalue the word.

3. Language

Strong feminist language over the last 50 years has also had its impact. Much has been made publicly about men and domestic violence and sexual abuse. There has been—to some extent via advertisements and public education campaigns—a pathologizing of the male as bad, as though he’s not capable of high ethics.

I think many men feel rather disempowered, shamed and unable to talk about the issues. Others go ‘stuff you’ and see it as a taboo topic. There is an element of feeling unlovable and hence rejected if they raise these issues.

These are only my observations, not facts. My curiosity around this has come from a long involvement in this area working with men and violence, soldiers and men in prison.

I think society would benefit from men reclaiming their voice around ethics; of course, using the language that works for them. Men need to stop concerning themselves about the views of religion, business or rad femmes and claim their own voice—regardless of what others think.

I call this Men Standing Up.

Lets go deeper. Integrity is often used to mean ethics, it is a wrong use of the word. Integrity means consistency and wholeness. A piece of wood has integrity if it has no faults, cracks etc that would weaken it.

Integrity means being consistent with who you are inside.

Integrity means being consistent with who you are inside. It is behaving according to your values no matter the circumstance. Yet by this definition even a mafia boss can have integrity. If he says cross me and your dead and follows through, then he is a man of his word and has integrity.

So this leads on to our core values being the essence. If you have wholesome or good core values and have integrity then your behavior is good, wholesome and ethical.

Consideration of values is somewhat out of fashion, maybe its time to bring it back. There are lots of values measurement and reflection instruments on the net. I looked at a few while writing this and found the Barrett Values Centre worthwhile. It allows you to assess what values are important to you and more importantly, it challenges you to list three values that you would like to have more of in your life and to work out how to get there.

We learn our values mainly from our early experiences with family and peer groups. Recent studies on our uptake of behaviors using smartphone based communication networks shows how dependent our values are on our peer groups.

Role modeling is important. When we admire people for who they are we tend to notice their behavior and qualities and are prone to take them on as ours.

So by standing up straight and claiming your ground around wholesome behavior, you not only improve your own sense of self-worth, but you lead by example and encourage other men to do so.

I would like to share with you five principles that I call a foundation for living that I developed. I used them in my work in family violence prevention course and in prison. Nothing new,  just a statement which made sense for a lot of men. The guys I worked with like them and found it was something they could work with.

Foundations for Living

I make choices

I am responsible for those choices

I can choose to do wholesome or positive things

I can choose to avoid choices that harm others

I can develop a greater awareness of my thoughts and behavior and how they effect me and others.

Here is a challenge for you. Write up your own statement of ethics and values that you live by or would like to live by. When next asked whether you agree with a company’s or organizations ethics statement. Say, well while I read your statement, will you read mine and tell me whether you agree with it, because if not, we cant do a deal.



About Paddy Murray

Therapist, mentor, writer, baker builder. Seventy years old and believe us older men need to pass our stories on. Building my new house on the coast of Eastern Tasmania


  1. “Men know what being a good man is and means. We use words like, guidelines, protocols, norms, how we do things here.”

    A few points – from the POV as I see it of a “post-ethical” male:

    – Being a good man means, first and foremost, respecting hierarchy. What one should or should not do depends on one’s position in organizations.
    – Secondly, making something good happen for the organization one is part of. Why is this secondary? Because if you do something good outside the organization’s hierarchy, you have still, in some way, failed. Especially if you succeed, you have disturbed the hierarchy.
    – Being a good man sometimes means not being a good person.

    Ethics could be said to have a “soft” or “feminine” essence for several reasons:
    – they are abstract in the sense of being unquantifiable by numbers or meassurable outcomes.
    – they are not abstract in the sense of being rooted in situational goods and not inviolable truths.
    – they fail to respect hierarchy for itself, considering it only as a means to desirable goods.

  2. Wes Carr says:

    One of the foundations of Libertarianism is the Zero Aggression Principle, or ZAP. Simply put, it
    means you do not initiate force against anyone for any reason. Defending yourself, or someone else
    from violence is the only exception.

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